Natural and Low VOC Paints
Paint can be a huge contributor to making our homes much more dangerous to our health that the outdoors. Volatile organic compounds, also known as VOCs, are often found in paints, lacquers, stains and other cleaning materials and cause our living spaces to be extremely polluted. We must make sure to buy paints with zero or low VOCs or those in which are made from natural materials.
Photo by Bree Baily.
What are VOCs?
Volatile Organic Compounds is a more and more popular term in relation to the green movement, but probably never fully explained to you. They are a very broad range of chemical gases which are carbon-based that are emitted by products like paints and various building materials, but also other products including gasoline, diesel and cigarette smoke. Different countries have different standards for what a VOC is and how they are regulated. Since they are often found in common household products, they can be in concentrations of 2 to 5 times higher in our homes. Extremely high concentrations of VOCs can usually be found in new buildings. That’s scary considering we usually spend the majority of our time indoors.
There are many health risks associated with being exposed to high levels of VOCs for long periods of time. There is even a sickness known as the sick building syndrome associated with being in a building too long that contains high concentrations of these organic compounds. Symptoms usually are similar to being allergic or asthmatic which can include as minor as eye nose or throat irritation to more dangerous damage to our liver kidney or central nervous systems and possibly even cancer.
Now that we know just how harmful VOCs can be to our body’s, it is especially important that we use paints that are natural or that contain zero or low VOCs. When going to buy paint, make sure to look for the following types of paints.
These types of paints are made from all natural ingredients and are the safest available. The most popular type of natural paint is a mixture of milk protein, lime known as milk paint. Other varieties of natural paints include ingredients such as clay, soy, plant and fruit oils and other natural minerals. Many of the same companies that make natural paints also have natural water-based wood stains and color pigmants. Some popular brands of these types of paints include:
- Real Milk Paint: One of the top milk paint makers that also makes natural oils and waxes.
- Bioshield: Makes all natural paints, wood stains, color pigments and more.
Check your local green building store or antique stores to find more great natural paints.
Low and Zero VOCs
Be sure to carefully read all paint labels when looking to see what VOC levels it contains. The EPA currently has maximum acceptable levels of VOCs and . If a paint can says Zero-VOC then by EPA regulation it must have less than 5 grams/liter. The current maximum level of interior paint is 150 grams/liter and 250 grams/liter for outdoor paint. There currently is a Green Seal certification that enforces low VOC paints to have less than 50 grams/liter.
When shopping for paints, regardless of whether or not “Low VOCs” is displayed on the label, make sure to find the exact amount. Since there is no government standard on determining whether a paint contains low organic compound levels, it’s extremely important to compare the number with the current maximum levels. If no number is provided, be sure to ask or do some research on your own.
Please share any brands or types of natural or low VOC paint that you have used with great success.